The terms Executive Search and Permanent Placement have left many confused. Although they mean different things, they are sometimes used interchangeably, even by industry professionals. This is because both processes have the same goals in mind and, most times, share a similar outcome. Still, they are not the same.

But what really differentiates them?

This article explores the differences between Executive Search and Permanent Placement. It also outlines the benefits of each and will guide you in choosing the right process for your business.

Let’s dive in!

Executive Search vs. Permanent Placement – What is the Difference?

Executive search is a specialized form of recruitment that includes:

  • A proactive advertising and comprehensive Human Resources networking strategy designed to source top candidates
  • In-depth interviews, reference checks, and background verification
  • Negotiation of the offer and onboarding of the candidate
  • A comprehensive replacement guarantee and ongoing follow-up to ensure the candidate was the right hire.

They focus mainly on hiring executive staff like Directors, CEOs, CMOs, CPOs, Marketing Directors, etc.  Executive search firms have very sophisticated research and recruitment processes. This means that they get to conduct detailed candidate searches across the country or across the world – depending on the needs of the company. Executive search firms are efficient in hiring the best candidates because they are made up of experienced professionals who work hard to ensure that their research and recruitment deliver the best executive and appropriate cultural fit for their clients. Their focus is on quality over volume.

Permanent placement is very similar to executive search:

  • Professional profiles and summary on each candidate presented for consideration
  • Help in coordinating the interview process
  • Collaborate on background checks, negotiations and assist in preparing a letter of offer.
  • We advise those who were not selected.
  • Communicate with you and the candidate prior to starting and during the onboarding period as well as follow up at regular intervals

Permanent Placement not only focuses on executive search but also on filling lower-level roles or intermediate staff. Permanent placement companies typically have qualified applicants who are immediately available for interviewing and recruiting. They gather these applicants via networking sites and job postings, as well as internal databases. Then they triage and assess these applicants to determine their eligibility and qualifications.

One major difference between executive search and permanent placement companies is the seniority level of the roles they hire. Executive search firms focus on hiring experienced, highly skilled, senior, and top-level management roles. These are positions that are typically hard to find in the market and require a specialized skill set. They are leadership roles that require unique abilities to successfully carry out long-term business plans and achieve company goals. On the other hand, permanent placement recruiters focus on hiring junior and lower-level management roles. Some even specialize in certain experience levels, like entry-level or intermediate.

Executive search companies also have wider coverage, sometimes even reaching out to global talents who meet the requirements and possess the skills needed to fill the role. Permanent placement agencies, on the other hand, are more localized and, most times can only deliver candidates who are in the company’s immediate location.

But what are the benefits and disadvantages of these two recruitment processes, and how do you decide which one is right for you?

Keep reading!

What are the Benefits and Downsides of Both Processes?

Executive Search


  • They provide high-quality searches – With thorough research, this type of recruitment firm will find and hire the most skilled candidates for the job.
  • Candidate guarantee – Due to the quality of the candidates, executive search companies tend to give a 6-12 months candidate guarantee to clients. They are sure of the candidate’s skills, culture fit, and ability to deliver on KPIs and meet company goals.
  • Saves money – Executive search agencies can save your company money because they have the skills and experience needed to hire high-level candidates faster than you would if you tried to hire in-house.
  • Saves Time – Attempting to hire executive-level candidates with your internal hiring team is resource intensive. The team would typically spend a lot of time searching, convincing, screening, interviewing, and onboarding the candidate. Executive search firms handle all these processes and also offer post-recruitment support to the candidate to help them settle into the new role.
  • Confidentiality – Executive search companies ensure that conversations about a new role are confidential for the sake of the executive candidate and the client. The client may be looking to replace someone who is still working. The candidate would appreciate discretion because they are not actively seeking new roles, so they would want to keep the conversation away from their current employer.


  • Higher costs – The extensive research and recruitment process is resource intensive. This makes them more expensive than the traditional recruitment process.
  • Longer time frames – Because high-level candidates are scarce and not actively applying for jobs, executive search takes time to thoroughly research, reach out to, shortlist, and interview such candidates. This entire process takes longer than that of permanent placements.

Permanent Placement


  • Less time intensive – Although they do research and cold-call, Permanent placement companies already have a pool of active, vetted candidates who are ready to be interviewed that they can choose from. This sometimes makes the recruitment process faster – depending on if the candidates are qualified for the position.
  • Less costly – Traditionally, permanent placements are charged on a contingency basis – once the role is filled the cost is based on a percentage of the agreed upon base salary.
  • Reduces hiring time – Typically the candidates are mostly unemployed and already available, so there’s no need to research and seek them out. However, that isn’t always the case. It is sometimes considered a pick-and-go model. This reduces the hiring time, and selected candidates can resume work immediately. While executive search can take up to 6 weeks, permanent placement processes can be completed in a week.


  • Lack of employer branding – With a broader range of applicants and employers it can often be more challenging to find the right fit for a job. Matching a resume to a job description can become difficult if proper information isn’t provided by an employer or applicant.


How To Choose Which Process is Right for You

Deciding which process is right for you depends on what your company is looking for. If you need to fill a role that requires deep specialization or a rare skill set, executive search firms are an invaluable resource for locating and convincing high-level candidates to take the job. If what you need is to fill non-executive roles or to fill a skill gap with entry-level or intermediate candidates, permanent placement agencies will be a more relevant option.

You should also consider how much time and money you are willing to invest in the recruitment process. Executive search services charge on a retainer basis, which means that they cost more. They also take longer to find and recruit candidates for clients. Permanent placements already have a pool of active candidates who are ready to be interviewed. These candidates are typically unemployed or ready to leave their current jobs, so they are willing to resume work immediately. Permanent placement agencies charge on a contingency basis, so they are less costly.


So, what are the major differences between these two processes?

  • Executive search takes longer to find, convince and hire candidates, while permanent placement already has a list of candidates who can start working immediately.
  • Executive search companies hire executive-level candidates, while permanent placements hire lower-level and junior staff.
  • Permanent placement costs less than executive search
  • Executive search is focused on delivering high-quality candidates, while permanent placement offers a large number of placements who may not be an exact fit, but have the right structure for the position.

Before choosing the right process for your company, ensure that you do the right research to determine what process works best for you. Determine what type of candidate you are looking to hire and how much time and money your company is willing to spend on the recruitment process.

For a smoother, more informed process, reach out to Brendan Hagerty. We offer both executive search and permanent placement services. Whichever process you decide to choose, we will ensure that you get the best results.